By Noah Kutz
Delicious food, marvelous wine, strong coffee and artistic mastery are written on an endless list of French stereotypes – along with rudeness, excessive smoking and body odor.
Some things hold true while others stand to be corrected. After just two weeks in France, I’ve learned a few lessons that you may find surprising and even useful for day-to-day interactions back home.
On the second day of my journey I noted in my journal, “The wine – fantastic. The people – Not entirely welcoming. Parisians walking around with baguettes and rapidly speaking French? Yes.”
My first impressions of the country were nothing more than expected as I seemed to be living out of my French culture textbook.
Something I learned quickly is that tourists have their own stereotypes (particularly the Americans). We are extremely loud everywhere we go and tend to disrupt anything peaceful in every setting.
On a boat tour on the Seine, my classmates and I saw a graffiti marking on a wall that read “Refugees welcome. Tourists go home.”
On the same tour, a local Parisian waved from the shore, so we greeted him and his comrades with enthusiastic waving and shouts of “Bonjour!” Moments later he turned around and dropped his pants to give us a rather unwelcome—yet mildly hilarious (some agreed) — farewell.
Rude as they may seem, Parisians cannot necessarily be blamed.
Paris is a major city, much like New York and D.C., that host millions of tourists every year, so it’s entirely understandable that you’d find the people to be a little more curt in their interactions with foreigners.
Additionally, most French people don’t live by the same boisterous standards that many Americans seem to.
When visiting a different country, we’re advised to be mindful of the standards those people hold and how their viewpoints might conflict with our own (believe me, I’ve been “that” tourist a few times already).
Along with this, saying “hello” to people could be the difference between a nice espresso and someone spitting in your drink.
If I walk into a French café and abruptly order my coffee with a brief “please” and “thanks,” I shouldn’t expect to have any reciprocated respect from the server.
However, a simple “Bonjour” before my order would carry me across every cultural and lingual divide, and would stand as the precursor to an often delightful, memorable encounter.
Though it seems that kindness can be anticipated in our home community, perhaps we can take this cultural example as a lesson to be courteous in every instance, and to never forget to greet one another.
To address any other stereotypes you may believe about France, I saw a man pick up a half-smoked cigarette from an ash tray outside a café and attempt to smoke the rest of it.
As for the general fragrances emanating from close-quarter encounters, I’ve come to the conclusion that deodorant is definitely more popular in the United States.
So far I’ve ridden electric scooters through Paris (see the cover story in this issue of Wrangler News for yet another angle to the scooter issue), climbed onto a small island in the Mediterranean in Marseille and played Sweet Home Alabama at a music bar with a few Frenchmen in Grenoble – not to mention countless other memories along the way.
Despite my adventures, Arizona will forever be my home. Be proud of your local communities, dear reader, and never take for granted the people and things you see every day.
And whenever you get the chance, give someone a polite greeting and ask how they’re doing – your coffee might taste a little better after all.